Chough report: December 2021

By Liz Corry

Sorel in the bleak midwinter. Photo by Liz Corry.

December was wet and wild, but that didn’t stop the choughs from making the most of Jersey. We had several sightings covering the north and south of the Island.

Jersey choughs have been foraging in the fields along le Canibut. Photo by Liz Corry.

The fields around Le Canibut lane in St John provided daily sustenance for a bit. Corbière became an early morning jaunt for several birds. Eight were spotted one morning searching for insects amongst the stony ground around the headland. We were able to identify the birds as a mix of this year’s juveniles and non-breeding sub-adults.

Monvie and Jaune searching for invertebrates on the south coast. Photo by Mick Dryden.

Historically, choughs in Jersey were known to nest along the stretch of coast running from Corbière to Beauport. The coastline clearly still holds it appeal for the species although not enough to support a chough independently from Sorel and the supplemental feed.

The south west corner of Jersey was historically home to breeding pairs of chough. Image taken from Google Earth 2022.

December catch-ups

An ‘epic’ event happened this month at Sorel. I finally managed to outsmart the choughs and trap them in the aviary on the first attempt. Ok, so it’s not climbing Kilimanjaro or turning rainwater into wine. But in our books, it’s pretty impressive. Especially given the fact myself and the student shut in 14 of the 24 choughs present, hand-netted and weighed seven, replaced missing rings on three, and solved a medical mystery for one. All within an hour and time to spare before sunset. 

No, before you ask, there was no pear tree and/or partridge in sight.

Student Charlotte Dean got the rare opportunity to hold a wild chough whilst learning about ringing. Photo by Liz Corry.

Minty, our Plémont male, now has brand new green and red rings. It should make him more obvious when he is flying between Grosnez and Plémont during the breeding season. In the process of replacing Lee’s missing white ring we noticed wear along the top edge of his metal ring. This was only fitted six years ago.

 

Lee’s metal ring fitted in 2015 is showing wear and tear. Photo by Liz Corry.

The medical mystery concerned Minty who was observed limping one afternoon at Sorel. There also looked to be swelling on one of his feet. Once in the hand, it was clear to see his hind digit on the left foot was swollen. In consultation with the vet, it was decided that it was likely to be fibrous scar tissue or a cold abscess. The limping seen the week before was unrelated and has not been observed since. We will continue to monitor him as closely as we can as with all the choughs. We will take him to the vet to be X-rayed if his condition worsens.

Swelling on the hind digit looks to be scar tissue or a cold abscess. Phot by Liz Corry.

Essential Maintenance

Ever since that catch-up on the 22nd, the choughs have been on the defensive, reluctant to enter the aviary if we are present. They might hate us even more when we set up the Henchman ladder to repair the tears in the netting.

Tears in the netting are appearing once again along the metal support pole. Photo by Charlotte Dean.

We tried to do the work on 9th December with the assistance of the Government Countryside Rangers. The ladders are too big for our Dacia and the condition of the farm track called for the Rangers’ high clearance Land Rover.

After our best Chuckle Brothers impression getting the ladder into the aviary whilst being pelted with hail, the Henchman was too tall to stand upright inside. We had borrowed Site Services’ Henchman because the Bird Department’s one was in use, not realising it was a different model until it arrived at Sorel car park.

We rescheduled for the New Year and set to work repairing the holes we could reach unaided.

We also had to reschedule installing new nest boxes in Ronez Quarry. Emergencies at Ronez postponed the two planned visits in December. I’m hoping it will be a case of third time lucky in January.

We kept ourselves busy in the meantime. The student created Christmas themed enrichment for the choughs using reclaimed wood, old perching, and non-toxic paints. A well-deserved Blue Peter badge is winging its way to her.

December in Jersey…must be time for a visit to Hawai’i

I participated in two online planning workshops this month to discuss ideas for the ‘Alalā reintroduction plans (aka the Hawaiian crow). The ‘Alalā Project team and the Jersey chough team have had on and off contact over the last ten years sharing a common goal and using similar practices we can both learn from.

Hawaiian crows are tool users. Photo by Ken Bohn/San Diego Global

Release efforts between 2016 and 2019 saw captive bred ‘alalā living free in Puʻ u Makaʻ ala Natural Area Reserve on Hawai’i Island. Sadly, after several losses, the team decided to re-capture the surviving birds and return them to the safety of captivity whilst they set to work on Plan B.

‘Alalā face a very complicated situation which is why the team are looking for help and ideas from far and wide including the Mariana crow, Puerto Rican parrot projects, and the Jersey chough project. Getting all four teams in one virtual room was a challenge in itself given the time zones. The first meeting was at 10pm (GMT) the second a more respectable 6pm.

It was very motivational to hear people sharing experiences that resonated across species and countries. Often when helping others you end up learning something yourself. And it reminded me just how lucky Jersey has been to have had success so early on with a species recovery project.

               

Blue Islands flight JECH0U9H

The four juvenile choughs bred at the Zoo this year were exported on the 16th to Paradise Park via Blue Islands. It was a true team effort requiring all Bird Department staff in that day to help catch the four out of the aviary in the afternoon of the 15th. They were then held in a quarantine aviary overnight ready for a 6am wake up call. The birds were caught and crated ready for a 7am departure in the dark heading to the airport. Blue Islands flew them to Exeter where they were met by Paradise Park staff and driven on to Hayle, Cornwall.

And finally…

As we bring December and 2021 to a close, we would like to thank everyone who has been involved in the project this year and all our supporters for their generosity and enthusiasm. It’s been another hard year for choughs dodging peregrines and humans dodging COVID, but we made it. Happy New Year! Here’s to a year full of leatherjackets, dung beetles, larvae and whatever else makes you choughing happy.

Sunsetting on another year at Sorel. Photo by Charlotte Dean.

Chough report: November 2021

November afternoons at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

By Liz Corry

At the start of November, I was still wearing shorts to work. By the end, several layers, gloves, a woolly hat, and the obligatory waterproofs. The choughs also noticed the change in weather. The entire flock are now waiting for supplemental food each afternoon. Some birds even wing-begging for food. Clearly, wild supplies of invertebrates were not meeting energy demands for birds battling winds and trying to stay warm.

The sheep left. Not necessarily related to the weather, I think they have been moved to St Ouen. This might add to the choughs’ hunger if there are less dung invertebrates around Sorel in the sheeps’ absence.

Hungry choughs waiting for the supplemental food. Photo by Liz Corry.

Storm Arwen caused more minor damaged at the aviary. Of note, the keeper door had been blown wide open when the force of the wind bent the bolt out of place!

I was quite surprised we didn’t suffer more, especially considering last month’s gale damage. Luckily, I managed to fix the damaged panelling before Storm Arwen hit.

Lily leaves the flock

Lily, a three-year old female, appears to have either perished or left the Island. She was last seen on 5th November at Sorel. She has not been reported elsewhere.

Lily is an example of how post-release management has played an important role in the project’s success. Lily hatched in the wild in 2018. We had to catch her up in December that year when we spotted her digit caught in her ring. Durrell vets had to intervene as the toe needed amputating (click here to learn more). She was released back into the wild the same day and formed a partnership with another female looking out for each other over the years.

Lily and Vicq hanging out together this summer. Photo by Liz Corry.

New partnerships

Since Lily disappeared, her ‘partner’ Vicq has been seen preening Pinel. He is a wild hatched bird from 2020. If this new partnership continues over winter, it could mean a new breeding pair. 

Likewise, Danny and Portelet are also showing promising signs of being a new pair for 2022. Both pairings will need to find a nest site and establish a new breeding territory. No doubt keeping the project team on their toes next season.

Roost monitoring

We have been without a student placement all November which has restricted certain tasks, one being the biannual roost checks. I’ve not been able to check all the known roost sites due to sunset times clashing with the supplemental feed.

I have been able to monitor the aviary and, as suspected, several of the quarry birds are roosting at the aviary again. I suspect they will switch back to the quarry once sunset times start occurring after Ronez have clocked off for the day.

Leg rings

We finally managed to trap Monvie in the aviary to fit her metal ring. This is engraved with details of Jersey Museum in case the bird is recovered by a member of the public. Also, it comes in really useful when a plastic colour ring drops off and we can’t be sure on identity. Case in point, Archirondel, who we also managed to catch the same day and replace her white ring.

Monvie having a metal leg ring fitted by a licensed ringer. Photo by Liz Corry.

Bo and Minty evaded several catch-up attempts this month. We will keep trying although, at least for now, we can still distinguish them in the flock. Then on the 29th, Lee arrived missing one of his rings so he gets added to the ‘to do’ list for December. 

French news

Our friend Yann commented on last months’ report to say he has not seen Cappy since spring. Disappointing if she has perished although not a surprise. It would be nice to think she has moved south, along the coast towards Brittany under the radar of French birders. 

And finally

Camera trap footage at Sorel often throws up a few surprises. This month it was the camera itself with the surprise. I found an orb weaver (spider) and ladybird ‘hiding’ behind the camera. The spider’s full name is Nuctenea umbratica, commonly known as a walnut orb-weaver. Apparently also known as the toad spider although I’m not sure why – a tendency to hide behind things?

I logged the find with the Jersey Biodiversity Centre using the iRecord app. Both are common species but it is still important to record when you can.

Camera traps throw up all sorts of surprises at the aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.

 

 

Chough report: October 2021

Do choughs need a Corvid-19 passport to leave Jersey? Photo by Liz Corry.

Report by Liz Corry

Out of sight but not out of mind

A year ago we had our first-ever confirmed sighting of a chough off-island when a juvenile flew over France. Has it happened again?! 

Rocky, a juvenile male from Ronez Quarry, is missing from the flock. He has bright pink and yellow leg rings making it theoretically easy for the team to pick him out in a crowd.  He has not been at the supplemental feed. That alone doesn’t mean much these days; however, on one occasion he was the only one not to turn up. This suggests he is either dead or has left the Island effectively reducing the population to 31 choughs.

It would be good if we can start raising our profile across the Channel Islands, Brittany, and Normandy to enable the public to report chough sightings if indeed the birds have flown further afield.

Rocky is not the only one to leave Sorel. Aaron spent a busy weekend transporting sheep off-site to another location for livestock management reasons. I’ve no one to talk to now when I’m cleaning the aviary!

Hello Dolly. Photo by Liz Corry.

Storm damage

The sheep were still out at Sorel when the storms hit this month. We had a couple of weeks where we were strongly reminded that winter is approaching.

The gales managed to break a food stand, break signposts, dislodge a water butt (it was empty to be fair), and pop several rivets. All easily fixed and looking like new. Or, in the case of signage, actually new thanks to the Government Countryside Rangers.

A few small tears have appeared in the netting and fixing points in need of attention. This will require some extra hands and a sturdy ladder. 

What’s wrong with this picture? Photo by Glyn Young.

Minor damage inflicted by October’s stormy weather. Photos by Liz Corry.

The sudden downpours turned walking to the aviary into a game of will I or won’t I end up like a drowned rat? Should I leave the dishes out or condense them down to put under cover? The latter confusing the choughs for a split second when they didn’t find a food dish where it normally would be.

New nest boxes for 2022

We have built two new nest boxes with a grant from the Jersey Ecology Trust Fund. These will replace two existing nest boxes which need to come out for different reasons. Percy and Icho’s box currently requires the hiring of a cherry picker to ring their chicks. The new nest design will allow access from inside the building. Plus, the current one became lopsided back in 2019 and is increasingly at risk of falling down. Not ideal for quarry staff least of all the choughs.

Percy and Icho’s nest box will undergo a Changing Rooms special this winter. Photo by Liz Corry.

Ronez Quarry will be installing the boxes before Christmas ready for the next breeding season.

The grant provided by the Jersey Ecology Trust Fund included several other items such as DNA sexing kits and leg rings. For various reasons, we came in under budget. The Trustees kindly permitted us to use the remainder of the budget to purchase new binoculars. For which I am very grateful – I was beginning to think it was just my eyesight!

Celtic cousins 

Regular readers might remember that the new design of nest box came from the owners of a renovated barn in Ireland. In fact, it was the October 2019 report where we featured the same nest box needs (thanks a lot COVID-19!).

Ireland is home to a population of almost 850 breeding pairs. This is more than Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, and Jersey’s numbers combined. Yet this still makes it a scarce species in Ireland restricted to the western Atlantic coastline.

View overlooking Beginish and Doulus Head from Valentia Island on Iveragh, Ireland. Photo by Norman McCloskey.

One conservation initiative involved with Irish choughs is LIVE (Llŷn Iveragh Eco-museums). The overall aim of LIVE  is to enable coastal communities to promote their natural and cultural assets, creating opportunities for sustainable tourism, especially outside of the traditional peak tourist seasons. LIVE uses the Ecomuseum model of co-operative marketing to create a powerful suite of digital and non-digital resources for eco and educational tourism. These resources are underpinned by knowledge of the local environments of the Llŷn Peninsula in Gwynedd and the Iveragh Peninsula in Kerry.

As part of this, Fiach Byrne, University College Cork, has has been investigating winter habitat use of choughs around the Iveragh peninsula, County Kerry. He recently presented his findings online; the YouTube video is below.

To find out more got to www.ecomuseumlive.eu or follow them on social media (@ecomuseumslive).

We hope to be hearing more from Fiach and the LIVE team in the future. There are lessons we can learn from our Celtic cousins to help the Jersey choughs thrive.

And finally…

Reviewing camera-trap footage can often be monotonous especially when it is just a blade of grass that sets off the trigger. Occasionally you come across a real gem. This month we managed to capture a series of images showing the barn owl hunting at the aviary.

A barn owl hunting outside the chough aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.

Channel Islands birds – the new list is out

We have great pleasure in circulating the updated Channel Islands bird list.
It may be a little late (blame shortages, difficulties in the supply chain, lack of lorry drivers etc, etc) but it’s well worth it. We have new birds, unexpected birds and some unclear changes to our songbird list (i.e. subalpine warblers). Jersey lost a species while Guernsey’s increase of one came through the sighting of an African species, Egyptian goose, that through human intervention is fast developing a population close to us (and in London’s city parks).

Besides the new species on the list, we always get to see the way our avifauna is changing. Glossy ibis? Black-winged stilts? We almost doubled the total number of dusky warblers in the islands’ history in one year too.

Oh, and there have been the annual changes to the list order and some new scientifics. If a species isn’t where you expect it, keep looking! 

An unexpected colonist
In the Channel Islands, nightjars have long been considered rare passage migrants. Few hung around for very long, many were only recorded after being flushed off the ground. Occasionally one was seen flying around at dusk or the distinctive churring call was heard.

As our bird fauna changes, with old favourites disappearing and new, often long-legged waterbirds, colonising, who had nightjar down as a breeder? Nightjars are relatively specialised in their habitat choice and diet and have suffered bad years in the north of their range as insect populations decline. However, in the last few years, they have been found more regularly in the islands and in 2020, not one but two territories were held in Jersey. Of these, while the birds were carefully monitored to avoid any disturbance, and to protect from misuse of the sites, one pair definitely raised young. Will they return, will numbers increase? Will the other islands see more? Well, you’ll need to wait until the next list update – spoiler alert, it’s worth waiting for!

You saw what? Alderney’s list continues to increase

Since the establishment of the Alderney Bird Observatory we’ve begun to expect new additions to theirs and the CI List. The black-winged kites were good, but followed increasing reports in NW France and one in Jersey. While they haven’t reached the UK, we might expect to see them more often here.

The first white-rumped sandpiper for the islands was another good bird but it will take a while to surpass the bearded vulture. Bearded vultures, formerly known as lammergeier, are big birds and block out daylight. They are spreading through some successful reintroduction projects in several places in Europe. As young are joining the new populations, dispersal is to be expected but the sudden sight of one flying by when you aren’t expecting it will long live in the memory. As the Alderney bird was watched leaving over the coast, I was one of several people on Jersey’s north coast hoping, just hoping!

But of course, our quest to identify the birds that live here is never, in any way competitive. Which is why we are so pleased to see Alderney catching up. And we won’t begrudge them that vulture! And we don’t want something even more impressive on our island! 

Download the Working List of the Birds of the Channel Islands 2020 here

 

World Migratory Bird Day 2021 and Global Bird Weekend: Join the global celebration of birds and nature on 8,9 and 10th October 2021!

“Sing, Fly, Soar – Like a Bird!” is the theme of this year’s World Migratory Bird Day, an annual global campaign dedicated to raising awareness of migratory birds and the need for international cooperation to conserve them will be held on 9th October. The Global Bird Weekend will be held over the weekend (8-10 October) to coincide with World Migratory Bird Day.

This year’s World Migratory Bird Day will focus on the phenomena of “bird song” and “bird flight” as a way to inspire and connect people of all ages around the world in their shared desire to celebrate migratory birds and to unite in a common, global effort to protect birds and the habitats they need to survive.

The 2021 World Migratory Bird Day theme is an invitation to people everywhere to connect and re-connect with nature by actively listening to – and watching birds – wherever they are. At the same time the theme appeals to people around the world to use their own voices and creativity to express their shared appreciation of birds and nature.

Birds can be found everywhere: in cities and in the countryside; in parks and backyards, in forests and mountains, and in wetlands and along the shores. They connect all these habitats and they connect us, reminding us of our own connection to the planet, the environment, wildlife and each other. Through their seasonal movements, migratory birds are also regularly reminding us of nature’s cycles.

As global ambassadors of nature, migratory birds not only connect different places across the planet, they also re-connect people to nature and to themselves like no other animals on the planet.

In fact, billions of migratory birds have continued to sing, fly and soar between their breeding and non-breeding sites. During the pandemic, which slowed down many activities by limiting our movements, people across the world have been listening to and watching birds like never before. For many people around the world, bird song has also been a source of comfort and joy during the pandemic, connecting people to each other and to nature as they remain in place.

Scientists around the world have also been studying the impact the pandemic is having on birds and other wildlife, looking at how “the anthropause” – the so-called global shutdown in human activity resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic – has affected birds and other wildlife around the world. At the same time, scientists have also been looking at the positive health benefits of birds and nature on humans.

Clearly, the pandemic has been an unprecedented challenge for humankind. At the same time, it has also brought a whole new level of awareness and appreciation of birds and the importance of nature for our own well-being.

World Migratory Bird Day 2021 is therefore not only a celebration of birds, it is also an important moment to reflect on our own global relationship with nature and to highlight our collective desire to do more to protect birds and nature in a post-pandemic world.

Celebrated across the world on two peak days each year – on the second Saturday in May and second Saturday in October – World Migratory Bird Day is the only international awareness-raising and education program that celebrates the migration of bird species along all the major flyways of the world.

Take part and make your sightings count – register for Global Bird Weekend here  or set up a team on eBird

Chough report: August 2021

Just in case their calls were not loud enough. Photo by Liz Corry.

By Liz Corry

Breeding season roundup

Don’t let the sound of a begging youngster fool you. The 2021 chicks are now fully independent. They just like to try their hand (or wing) once in a while with their parents.

Four youngsters have survived. This is a disappointing number although four is better than none. Thankfully, each from a different family which helps a little to spread the genetics around. Speaking of which, their DNA sexing results came in at the start of August. We have one male and three females. They all have names now too:

Rocky, breaking gender conformity with his bright pink leg ring, is the offspring of Dusty and Chickay.

Rémi, as reported last month, is wild-hatched Minty and Rey‘s first chick. She might be a St Ouen parishioner, but certainly isn’t seen as an outsider by the St John residents. 

Wally Jnr. shares a lot of characteristics with her mother Wally when she was a fledgling at the aviary. There may have been a Kevin Jnr. but we never managed to sample the second chick before it perished.

Monvie is Bo and Flieur‘s girl who sports a mauve over yellow ring. Her name is taken from the Jèrriais greeting Man vyi meaning my old mate/friend (if addressing a woman it is Ma vielle). Its pronounced a little like you are saying ‘mauvey’ which helps to remember her leg ring colour. Learn more about the language at L’Office du Jèrriais.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, the body of the missing fifth chick was found by Ronez Quarry staff on the 16th. We ringed it on 30th June so we knew it was Dusty’s and now know it was male. Judging from the state of the body he had died when we first reported it absent from the feed.

Two breeding pairs at Sorel resting in the rocky shade. Photo by Liz Corry.

Not all of the breeding pairs survived the season. We lost a male resulting in a ‘divorce’ of another pair and the re-joining of old flames. It also looks like we have lost the female who roosted and tried building a nest in Trinity. She has not been seen anywhere since early summer. 

All being well, we will have two new pairings attempt to nest in 2022 bringing it to eleven pairs. The same as in 2021 despite our losses.

West is best

View of Grosnez with the other Channel Islands on the horizon. Photo by Liz Corry.

The choughs still preferred to hang out on the north west coast in August. Who could blame them with the views.

Cliffs from Grosnez to Plémont are frequently visited by choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.

Not to mention the ‘playground’ that is Les Landes with the racecourse, stables, paddocks, rooftops, and scattered WW2 German-made structures.

As long as they keep out of the way of the occasional model aircraft and, more permanent, resident peregrines!

This peregrine at Grosnez might be more familiar with choughs than I would like. Photo by Liz Corry.

Food for thought

From March to July this year we had a student placement working on the project. Riccardo rose to the challenge of re-establishing our breeding colony of mealworms for the supplemental feed.

We have never really had enough continuity and/or success to fully rely on in-house production. We buy in 1.5kg-2kg of mealworms per week from the UK to supplement the choughs’ diet. We get a discount since it comes with the bulk order for Jersey Zoo’s residents. Yet this still equates to hundreds of pounds a year.

Thanks to Riccardo’s efforts we might be making a breakthrough. After a month of breeding we have produced about 500g of mealworms. Not enough to cancel the UK order, but it should keep our costs down.

There is potential to expand the operation…providing a certain DIY store continues to stock our ‘high-tech’ housing facility aka drawers.

Mealworm breeding setup for the supplemental feed. Photo by Liz Corry.

It’s a delicate balance of temperature, humidity, and the right amount of nutrients appropriate for each of the four life stages. Fingers crossed; we can continue Riccardo’s good work now he has returned home to Italy.

Next time you see an advert for ITV’s I’m a Celebrity….just think about the effort and expense that goes into raising mealworms. And then the waste!

Chough report: July 2021

By Liz Corry

Plémont success

Last month we reported our first successful rearing of young from a wild-hatched pair. Three chicks in the Plémont nest followed by the subsequent fledging of two.

Then, like a high street in lockdown, it went eerily quiet.

There was no sign of the third chick out and about. The Plémont cliffs are not very forgiving at high tide for a young bouldering chough. Easy to imagine it not surviving. Yet also hard to determine since we weren’t seeing any members of the Plémont family.

When Minty and Rey, the parents, eventually appeared at the feed they showed no interest in any of the juveniles. Observations were further hampered by the lack of choughs at the feed. We had to put in the extra mileage, literally, to travel in search of choughs or wait until the evening when they start heading home to roost.

A roost check at Plémont provided no answers just a stunning sunset.

The only info we had was from a member of the public who had photographed Minty and Rey with one unringed juvenile at the Pinnacle on the northwest coast. This was taken in June before we had managed to ring any of this year’s young.

The first Jersey juvenile from wild-hatched choughs. Photo by Anthony Morin.

Four weeks of not knowing then suddenly we had our answer. Reviews of camera trap photos set at the aviary showed Minty passing food to a chick. A chick we had ringed on 14th July and had seen at the feed every day since! Until that last week in July we had never witnessed Minty or Rey show any interest in the youngster.

Maybe that is their parenting style? The young chough is fairly robust, gets on with things, is confident around the aviary and within the flock. They raised her well.

We have named her Rémi which means ‘the first ones’ in Gaulish. Rather apt for the first true Jersey chough resulting from the reintroduction.

Family hierarchy: Rey. Minty, and Rémi. Photo by Liz Corry.

Five ‘gold’ rings

With much effort, we continued to try and trap unringed juveniles in the aviary. As already mentioned, the birds were not hanging around Sorel as much as in previous years. Leftover supplemental food and their preference of sites such as Grosnez, Les Landes, and L’Étacq implied they had resources elsewhere.

When choughs were present at the aviary they were, and still are, not as confident about going inside. No doubt for multiple reasons although strong influences will be the peregrines hunting above the aviary field and the overgrown vegetation potentially harbouring threats.

We switched tactics to try catching later in the day, around 7pm, by which point choughs roosting at Sorel or Ronez would be foraging closer to home. This worked on two occasions allowing us to ring, measure, and sample two juveniles.

By the close of July there were no more unringed choughs to be found. In total we had ringed five chicks all with a yellow ring to represent 2021 and a second unique colour. Sadly, that meant some youngsters had perished.

The yellow ring represents 2021, the bird’s year of hatch. Photo by Liz Corry.

2021 Breeding Season summary

Of the ten nests we knew about, only 50% survived to fledge a chick or more. We accounted for twelve fledged chicks yet only four still alive.

There is a slim chance a fifth chick, ringed pale blue over yellow, is simply playing an unintentional game of hide and seek with us. Seven adults are consistently absent at the afternoon feed. A few of those have been spotted along the coastline from Grosnez to Le Pulec. Is the missing chick with them? A task for August will be monitoring this northwest corner and determine the whereabouts of the pairs.

Wally Jnr. keeping close to her parents at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

There was an eleventh pairing in spring who were busy collecting nesting material in Trinity. As first timers we did not hold out much hope. It appears they did not even make it to the egg laying stage. No nest was found. Lots of false hope through seeing them steal twigs from pigeon nests. No actual Trinity chough nest.

This may or may not be related to the disappearance of the female. Then this month, the male was seen with a different female over in… guess where…Grosnez.

Tracking down choughs at Grosnez. Photo by Liz Corry.

Pinel was starting to worry us until we found him at Grosnez. Photo by Liz Corry.

Green fingers

We are carrying out several ‘gardening’ tasks around the aviary to create a less imposing surrounding for choughs, open up some foraging opportunities for them, and allow us to see when operating the hatches from the adjacent field. It should also mean less cover for feral ferrets to hide in and less attractive areas for rats.

Where are the sheep when you need them?! Photo by Liz Corry.

This meant a lot of grass strimming and removal of bracken. Hedgehogs, slow worms, and green lizards inhabit the embankment, so care is required. I also discovered a bumblebee nest and several ant nests; the latter a favourite of wild choughs.

Slow worm and an ant nest uncovered at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

In amongst the bracken there are shrubs the National Trust planted about ten years ago. Each year we try and help these out by removing the vegetation suppressing them like the delightfully named sticky willy. I’ve left the aromatic wormwood…how do we feel about a Birds On The Edge branded absinthe? We could raise a glass to toast the wild Jersey choughs!

Wormwood Artemisia absinthium, is one of many herbaceous plants found at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

 

Celebrating a record-breaking year for Cornish choughs

From Cornwall Birdwatching and Preservation Society (CBWPS) with particular thanks to Hilary Mitchell. Photos are by Lynn Colliver and CBWPS

Celebrations this summer as the population of chough in Kernow (Cornwall) is finally bouncing back after over two decades of conservation efforts. Every year their numbers have grown, but this year has been exceptional. They are now well on their way to becoming a healthy and resilient population.  

In 2021, 23 pairs of Cornish chough bred successfully, raising a record breaking 66 young. A huge achievement for a bird once extinct in Kernow, but even greater against a backdrop of decreasing chough populations elsewhere in the UK. Not all the young will survive to adulthood and raise families themselves, but the higher the number of fledglings that survive each year the more robust the birds become against extinction in the future. 

Recolonisation has expanded in 2021 with several more pairs between Godrevy and Newquay. The furthest north remains Padstow with no choughs beyond the Camel Estuary. As far as we know…. This year also saw some co-parenting with two males (brothers) paired with the same female, the trio going on to fledge three chicks. The county’s oldest males (aged 15 and 16) also bred successfully again, raising four chicks each. Two 12-year old females also reared young (one with the 15-year old male). 

It has taken decades of close partnership work to get Kernow’s choughs back to this positive result. From the conservation expertise of the RSPB; to the passion of Kernow’s nature-friendly farmers and land managers who have brought back grazing to the cliffs; the vital funding for this land management from Natural England; the collaboration of conservation organisations like The National Trust; and the dedication of volunteers who monitor the birds to make this a conservation success story.   

The National Trust manage key areas of Cornwall’s coastline, which the chough call home and now manage a team of volunteers that monitor the chough on their land. Kate Evans, National Trust Senior Visitor Experience Officer, said: “We are thrilled to see numbers of Cornish chough increase year on year. It’s with thanks to the passionate volunteers who give their time and who are dedicated to monitoring choughs, that we are able to build a picture of this growing chough population”. 

The return of the chough to Kernow has been no small feat. It has only been achievable through close partnership work and the support of an amazing team of volunteers. The growing success of the Cornish chough is also testament to the hard work of nature-friendly farmers and landowners who provide the right homes for Kernow’s choughs to survive and thrive.  

Jenny Parker, RSPB Cornwall Reserves Warden, said: “We want to thank everyone involved in surveying and providing the conditions for chough to flourish.  Our volunteers play a pivotal role locating and verifying chough nest sites every spring and all around the Cornish coast, this information is then relayed to landowners, who with our help and guidance can help chough thrive.”  

Nicola Shanks, RSPB volunteer, added: “It has taken a while, but finally the tide has turned for chough in Kernow. With continued good land management and the protection of safe nest and roost spots, it will ensure their future here and their spread up the coast into Devon and beyond”. 

However, the next chapter of the Cornish chough’s story is in all of our hands – if you see chough in Cornwall please email your sightings to our newest partner the Cornwall Birdwatching and Preservation Society (CBWPS) at: choughs@cbwps.org.uk.  

Hilary Mitchell, CBWPS volunteer, said: “We couldn’t do it without all the people that report their sightings to us, thanks to each and every one of them”.  

CBWPS will continue to play a key role collating chough records and informing all partners of their whereabouts as we move into a new chapter of the Cornish Choughs remarkable recovery.  

Don’t worry, birds won’t become dependent on you feeding them

From Good News Network

Oregon State University researchers have some good news for those of us well-meaning who place bird feeders in their gardens: the small songbirds who visit the feeders seem unlikely to develop an unhealthy reliance on them.

“There’s still much we don’t know about how intentional feeding might induce changes in wild bird populations, but our study suggests that putting out food for small birds in winter will not lead to an increased dependence on human-provided food,” said Jim Rivers, an animal ecologist with the OSU College of Forestry.

Around the globe each year, hundreds of millions of people put out food for wildlife, including 50 million in the United States alone, driving a $4 billion industry based on food, feeders, and other accessories.

But the popular pastime has long raised concerns about making animals dependent on human-provided food—especially during wintertime and other parts of the annual cycle that require animals to expend a lot of energy.

“The extensive and widespread nature of people intentionally feeding wildlife can have unintended consequences for free-ranging animal populations, and those consequences are best documented in birds,” Rivers said.

“On the negative side, it can facilitate disease transmission, restructure local communities, and alter migration behavior, for example. There’s even evidence that it can lead to changes to birds’ bill structure. On the other hand, it can also have positive effects, such as enhanced body condition, wintertime survival, and reproductive output.”

Bird feeding is especially popular in the northern latitudes, particularly during winter, when cold, stormy weather and minimal daylight reduce the time that birds have for locating natural foods. But not much is known, Rivers said, about whether birds become reliant on the feed their human friends put out for them.

“The only manipulative experiment to test that, using the black-capped chickadee (a species similar to the great tit), was 30 years ago,” he said. “It found no reductions in apparent survival after removal of bird feeders that had provided supplemental food in winter for 25 years, leading to the conclusion that bird feeding did not promote feeder dependency.”

Rivers and colleagues studied the feeder use habits of 67 black-capped chickadees subjected to one of three flight-feather-clipping treatments: heavy clipping, light clipping or, as the control, no clipping. Experimental removal of primary flight feathers is an established technique for altering wing loading and increasing the energy costs of flight, Rivers said.

The birds were tagged with RFID (radio frequency identification) chips, and 21 bird feeders along a 3.2 kilometre riparian zone were filled with sunflower seeds and equipped with chip readers to measure feeder visits by tagged birds.

Scientists chose the chickadee because it is a small songbird (it weighs less than half an ounce) that frequents bird feeders during winter throughout its range; has high daily energy requirements; and typically takes one seed at each feeder visit, allowing for a clear measure of feeder visitation rate.

“It’s an ideal species for evaluating how energetic challenges lead to behavioural changes in feeder use during winter,” Rivers said. “Our study found that the experimentally handicapped chickadees, those experiencing elevated flight costs, did not increase their rates of visitation to the feeders.”

Instead, feather-clipped birds actually decreased their feeder use for a couple of weeks— possibly to reduce exposure to predation—but after that used the feeders at levels similar to the unclipped control birds. The researchers looked at number of feeder visits, number of feeders used and timing of feeder visits and found little difference between clipped and non-clipped chickadees.

“Feather-clipped chickadees reducing their use of feeders relative to control birds suggests that foods in the environment—like seeds, berries and small invertebrates—were sufficiently available to compensate for increased flight costs and allowed them to cut back on feeder use,” Rivers said.

“It’s clear that the chickadees in our study did not increase their visitation rates nor did they increase their reliance on supplemental feed during a period when they might have benefited from it the most.”

The paper Experimentally induced flight costs do not lead to increased reliance on supplemental food in winter by a small songbird can be accessed here

Garden bird feeders are boosting blue tit numbers – but leaving other species hungry

From The Conversation

We’ve filled feeders with seeds and nuts since many of us were children and loved seeing which birds arrive. And, we’re not alone – around half of all UK households do the same nowadays, spending £250 million on 150,000 tonnes of bird food each year. That’s enough to feed three times the breeding populations of the ten commonest garden species if they ate nothing else all year, with one feeder for every nine birds that use them.

Have you ever wondered how all of that additional food might be affecting wild birds? How much has our generosity changed their natural diet, and what of the bird species we don’t see visiting garden feeders?

If you live in the UK and the Channel Islands, one garden visitor you’re probably used to seeing is the blue tit. Blue tits are small, fast and often feed high in trees on tiny insects. Seeing exactly what they eat is tough. But with new molecular technology, it has been possible to test blue tit faeces from 39 woodlands across Scotland – some close to houses, some on remote mountainsides and some by the sea – and gain a fascinating insight into their average diet.

What was found, came as a surprise. A small moth caterpillar (Argyresthia goedartella) that lives on birch trees was their most common natural prey item, present in a third of the faeces sampled. But among hundreds of species of insect prey, there was also garden bird food – and lots of it.

Peanuts were present in half of all the faeces – the most common food item for Scottish blue tits – and sunflower seeds in a fifth. And the birds weren’t just popping next door to find these garden treats. Some were travelling as much as 1.4km from remote areas to nibble on their favourite garden snacks. Clearly this has become part of their staple diet.

A blue tit bonanza

Eating the food we provide gives blue tits more energy to lay eggs – five days earlier than blue tits that don’t. These earlier breeders are likely to raise more healthy chicks. Eating bird food was also linked to a nearly four-fold increase in the proportion of adults available to breed in a given area. Where there used to be one pair of blue tits nesting, garden bird feeders nearby meant there was now likely to be almost four pairs sharing the same space.

Other woodland species such as great tits, nuthatches and great spotted woodpeckers that enjoy garden bird food are doing very well too. Their UK populations have increased on average over the last 25 years that bird feeding has really taken off.

All this feeding might be giving these species an unfair advantage. These species have natural competitors in the woods that aren’t using bird feeders as much or at all, either because they’re shy or because they’re bullied by more dominant species, or because they don’t like the food people provide. These species include the marsh tit, willow tit, pied flycatcher, wood warbler and lesser spotted woodpecker. What’s happening to them is, sadly, not such good news.

How to help all woodland birds

On average, woodland birds that don’t use garden bird feeders have declined over the past 25 years, some to the point where they have almost disappeared from the UK countryside. Nobody knows exactly why, and while this may be partly due to their habitat fragmenting and the climate warming, garden bird-feeding may have also played a role.

Due to people feeding them, there are now more dominant blue and great tits in the woods than 25 years ago, eating more of the limited natural food and evicting other species from their nests. There are also more great spotted woodpeckers and squirrels, which eat the chicks of some birds. Perhaps an extra 700,000 pairs of very healthy and dominant great tits in woodlands is too much for the UK’s remaining 2,000 pairs of shy and subordinate willow tits.

While results suggest there’s a link between how much woodland birds visit feeders and their population trends, they don’t show a direct cause, so we shouldn’t panic yet. While scientists study this problem, responsible bird lovers can help.

Consider contributing to the garden bird surveys organised by the RSPB, British Trust for Ornithology and Action for Wildlife Jersey/Birds On The Edge to help scientists keep track of where birds are, in what numbers and what they’re doing. If you’re lucky enough to live where rare woodland bird species can still be found, consider providing less bird food to common species and cleaning your feeders regularly.

Meanwhile, there are more natural ways to encourage wild birds into your garden. Planting native shrubs and trees like rowan, hawthorn, silver birch, spindle and guelder rose is one option. They are all beautiful year-round, fairly small and provide excellent habitats for wild birds. Other ideas include mowing lawns less often and digging ponds.

As some rare species nest close to the ground, please keep dogs on leads while walking in woodlands during the spring too. But most importantly, keep enjoying these beautiful birds – in all their miraculous diversity.

Further reading:

Faecal metabarcoding reveals pervasive long-distance impacts of garden bird feeding

A national scale inventory of resource provision for biodiversity within domestic gardens

Wild bird feeding in an urban area: intensity, economics and numbers of individuals supported